Variety in games for the most part is a good thing. It allows players to craft their own individual style with specific requirements that suite their needs. Precipitating enough versatility to a games basic functionality to accommodate the dedicated precision of some while facilitating the casual persuasion of others. Of course with such a wide range of options available it can be difficult to customise either a character’s appearance or inventory without compromising something else. “Did I choose the right skill? What if I need that other one later? What if I can’t alter the style or colour of my hair later? Is this green afro a major fashion faux pas!” Personally I find character creation a tedious nuisance. Whether it’s the alignment of your characters nose, the positioning of the cleft on the chin, the detailed structuring of one’s cheek bones or the wealth of opportunity to enhance the modest assets of your female elf, it’s all just unnecessary accessories that trivialize my experience. I get that there are a catalogue of facial subtleties and cosmetic alterations that add a deeper level of personalised integration that many find endearing, but I don’t. I just want to play the game. For me it’s a redundant feature I rarely utilise that I have neither the time nor the inclination to indulge in. It makes sense that people want to create an identifiable character that exhibits personalised traits reflective of their own, but for me playing the game should evoke such catharsis, not the gilded tunic the snow elf is attired in. But I don’t begrudge the features intrusive implementation, I simply ignore it. The real problem with the concept of “variety” is the way it’s used to restrict the player as you progress or more accurately level up.
Most games adhere a similar ubiquitous tenant of levelling up. A system legislated so that players can’t become all-powerful gods immediately, but rather distributing the benefits of progression in a timely fashion. You kill a few enemies, accumulate a differing amount of experience – dependent on the strength of an opponent you’ve defeated – ascend to the next numerical digit and reap the slight benefits of your increased stature and repeat. It’s familiar, easy to understand and the most assured way of preventing the game from becoming too easy. Particularly if enemies level up in conjunction with your own, which is the case with Skyrim. The method of progression in Skyrim differs slightly from its contemporaries in the sense that it isn’t necessarily an encompassing points system that allows sustainable development of your character, but rather focuses on the contributions of singular attributes. For instance I have taken preferential steps to become a prolific exponent in stealth, archery and aggression simply because it suits my surreptitious style and hostile feelings towards mankind, which has provided a steady growth in both stealth and archery as well as two-handed weapons, light armour, blocking and other disreputable proclivities such as pickpocketing and lock picking skills. As each individual skill improves so too does my level. But once these skills get closer to their maximum capacity it becomes harder to reach the next level, leaving you with little choice but to engage with less desirable attributes. The superfluous attributes that require sustained repetition to improve, most of which concern the use of magic.
Because a more direct combat style negates the contributions of skills such as alteration, conjunction and illusion you’re now forced to adapt your preferred play to accommodate a style you won’t ever use in active combat. The only time these kind of ancillary support is ever useful is for casting the odd restoration spell to replenish lost health. You’re probably thinking that a game that encourages the player to diversify is a good thing, and you’d be right. It’s certainly a creative way of engaging the player’s ability to utilise a variety of skills to improve both performance and level. But that doesn’t prevent it from being annoying too! Now I’m reduced to merely waving my hands around like I’m doing my own interpretation of “Jazz Hands” with arthritic wrists, casting vapid incantations through the cities of Skyrim, much to the grievance of the city guards in an attempt to improve these latent abilities that have little use in my own combat. Sure it’s great that games have adapted the limitations of levelling up by incorporating a multitude of variants that goes beyond the banal accumulation of experience points. I just wish that the ideologies were a little more naturally occurring. Features or in this case skills that you don’t favour shouldn’t be compulsory, but rather enhance the things you do use. Forcing elements that some consider unfavourable shouldn’t be necessities but endeavours that complement and reward rather than just benefit you through persistence. But I guess there’s nothing that can be done, so if you’ll excuse me I have guards to upset with my magic hands…..wait, no! That’s not what I meant?!
How d you think levelling up in games can be improved? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.